Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication, and Community Online

Cathal McCauley (Sub‐Librarian Reader Services, University College Dublin Library, Ireland)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




McCauley, C. (2008), "Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication, and Community Online", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 189-191.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

From the outset this book promised much. The author is an academic librarian working with distance learners – someone with a practical interest in what social software can offer librarians and users. She is a mover and shaker in the library world (a brief glimpse at the “speaking” section of the website ( which accompanies this book confirms that she is a regular speaker on the library circuit). The very existence of the accompanying website was itself encouraging. An obvious concern about any book dealing with such subject matter is how it could keep up‐to‐date with such a rapidly evolving area. A regularly updated online presence could address, at least partly, such concerns.

While the author's own background is in the academic sector, the book is aimed at librarians working at all levels in all types of libraries and this is supported by examples from across the spectrum. Although it opens and closes with a consideration of the background to, and future of, social software the majority of the book (12 of the 16 chapters) focuses on the technologies themselves and how they can enable libraries to reach their users where they now spend a considerable amount of their increasingly valuable time – in online communities of one kind or another. Indeed the concept of place is a central theme underpinning the author's views about why libraries, and librarians, need to embrace social software. The author posits the view that in the past librarians have made enormous efforts to place libraries at the physical centre of their community or institution but that many of us have not put the same effort into placing ourselves at the centre of relevant online communities. This is despite the fact that online communities – based on social software – are an increasingly important part of our users' lives.

The author credits social software with changing the image of the internet as the preserve of isolated socially inept geeks. Furthermore, the author suggests that social software drove the shift from a primarily read‐only world wide web to the current participatory model. These assertions, if a little expansive, are difficult to refute. If the author's well constructed arguments and analysis are not sufficient, all most librarians will have to do is look around at what our users are doing. In the academic library in which I work the number of students which can openly be observed using social software is enormous. What is included under the umbrella of social software? Separate chapters focus on blogs, RSS, Wikis, online communities, social networking, social bookmarking, synchronous online reference, the mobile revolution, podcasting, screencasting and vodcasting, and gaming (if you are unsure what any of these mean the books assumes nothing and each chapter starts with the basics). Each of these is subjected to critical evaluation. Practical considerations and concerns are confronted. Useful case studies describe their application in real library environments.

Throughout the tone is encouraging but the author avoids the over‐the‐top, unsettling, enthusiasm that characterises many commentators in this field. The author also eschews excessive technical detail. One of the benefits of most social software is that end‐users can avail of them without knowing or understanding much of how they actually work. This is one of the factors that facilitated them becoming popular. A key point the author makes is that social software is not just about serving users. There are many applications for library staff use too. Indeed, it would be difficult for a staff that does not adopt social software themselves to deliver services to users based on such platforms. This book is a practical, accessible and balanced assessment of a wide variety of social software options and their potential application in different kinds of libraries. The book is well laid out with a clear table of contents (including sub‐headings), a list of figures and a comprehensive index.

My three main criticisms of it are relatively minor. Firstly, the focus is entirely North American. While not unexpected, in a European context this does diminish the impact of many of the author's arguments. The development of library services must reflect the community/society/institution in which they are based and while there are many similarities there are also many key differences between Europe and North America. Secondly, the aforementioned website is somewhat disappointing. While a welcome effort to enable readers to stay on top of this developing area, at the time of writing the level of updates and so forth was under whelming. The most up‐to‐date sections were those advertising the author's popularity as a speaker and praise for this book. There is little about the latest developments in social software. This may be an unfair and premature criticism but in its current form the site would certainly benefit from some additional content.

Finally, the author does not use the term web 2.0 throughout the text. While a minor concern at one level I found it disconcerting and on more than one occasion I had to reassure myself that this book was dealing with web 2.0. I am unsure why the author avoided using such a common, if opaque, term. I was so puzzled that, in keeping with the participatory principles of social software, I e‐mailed her to inquire. It transpired that it was the very impreciseness of the term that led her to avoid using it. While I acknowledge this difficulty, I believe the term has gained such currency that to refrain from mentioning it altogether, even if just to explain its absence, was remiss. These are, as I conceded earlier, minor quibbles. Indeed the most serious crime of which the author is guilty is frightening those of us who have some distance to go to realise the potential of social software. The good news is that she tells why and how we must do so clearly, concisely and with the minimum use of jargon.

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